Basic Jazz Chord Voicing


in Composition

In a previous post we talked about simple chord voicing. To build on that concept we are going to introduce some basic jazz chord voicing ideas. These fundamental ideas are principles you can use to spend a life time of mastering voicing chords.

Typically, your bass player will start any new or chord change with a root note of the chord being used and then may play other chord tones or even walk up a part of a scale to progress to the next chord change root tone.

The other members of your band will be looking to build on this initial root tone by providing other chord tones within a given scale choice.

To address voicing chords in the jazz genre let’s start with what a keyboard or guitar player may add on top of that root note our beloved bass player has supplied. Any other note of the chord can be used to build on the root. To start, it may be the 5th or 3rd or 7th to fill the chord notes.

Assuming that we might start on the 5th. (look below for a tip on where to really start), your keyboard play may add the 5 – 7 – 3 notes as shown next to give the full body of the chord while other instruments play some melody notes using chord or scale tones applied to that chord.

Here is a tip that will help you understand the most likely place to start when voicing jazz chords. Two of the most common places to start are with the 3rd or 7th of the chord as your bottom or voicing start note.

Adding Other Scale Tones

To give a chord even more color you might consider adding the 9th to the chord and voicing it within your chord choice.

Refer to the sample chords below. Using a Fm7 we can start with a 3rd (Ab) add a 7th (Eb), notice this is a fifth interval, and include the 9th (G). This voicing is now giving us a wonderfully colorful chord.

In the second measure consider voicing from the 7th, in this case a Bb7 where we’ve used the7th (Ab) as the start and then included the 9th (C) and the 3rd (F).  Notice how this was a good close chord progression as well.

More Hipness

Here’s an even better twist to go hipper, let’s go to the original chord starting on the third (3 – 7 – 9) and change the 7th to a 6th (we won’t call it a 13th in this case as the 7th has now been removed). So we have a 3 – 6 – 9 voicing, another hip sound.

This is known as a 6-9 chord and is often used as the last chord in a song. Notice how this has two 4 intervals from A to D and D to G. That’s just plain cool once you get used to the sound. In the second measure we used the 5th instead of a 3rd.

Using this new 3 – 9 – 6 voicing in the treble clef and a 1 – 7 in the base would give you a really hip jazz style chord using the 1 – 3 – 7 – 9 – 13 intervals. If your base player is walking the 1 and 5 and you use all the rest of the intervals you now have a really full chord.

The Cluster

You've seen how to voice the notes fairly far apart. Now your task is to take this example and mix them up and try putting the notes right next to each other in clusters or groups to audition the sounds for your compositions and become the next Bill Evans, a master of clusters. Try something like this example.

Have fun exploring the jazz chord voicing concept.

Reference lessons:

Intervals page and Notes Workshop

Scales page or Scale and Key Workshop

Chords page or Creating Chords Workshop

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